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REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT

TOP COAT

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT

Thursday 30th June 2022, 7:30pm, Wharf 1 Theatre Walsh Bay

Acclaimed playwright Michelle Law uses the "I wish I were in your shoes" body swap genre to raise the awareness of the prejudices that people of color experience on a daily basis in her new play TOP COAT. Presented with proper representation, both on stage and off, this new work uses comedy to convey important messages to a society that still struggles to deliver proper representation of the diversity of the population which fuels the ongoing racism and double standards.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
John Batchelor, Arisa Yura, Kimie Tsukakoshi and Amber McMahon in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

The TOP COAT of the title refers to the Nail salon where protagonist Winnie (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Asami (Arisa Yura) work. While Asami, a more recent migrant still learning the nuances of Australian slang, is just trying to keep her customers and her unseen boss happy, Winnie has had enough of the arrogant racist white customers who assume that because she doesn't look like them, they can be rude, insulting, and aggressive because they are simply the service workers with no voice in society. In a world where it is sadly still generally accepted that women like Winnie will never be more than employees of other people's companies, the young woman of Asian descent has higher ambitions and a desire to have an influence on how she, and others like her, are treated by the entitled white customers that rely on their skills and services to maintain their polished image. After closing one night, Kate (Amber McMahon), an obnoxious high power executive of the Multicultural Broadcasting Corporation that occupies the office buildings above, demands Winnie stay back to deal with a manicure emergency but during Kate's insufferable whining about her privileged live, the offhand wish for the other's life is mysteriously granted allowing a 'walk a mile in another person's shoes' experience and the resulting understanding that comes with that.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
John Batchelor, Arisa Yura, Kimie Tsukakoshi and Amber McMahon in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

Staged in the Wharf 1 black box theatre space, designer James Lew has created four bright set trucks, each with a color theme, to represent the Nail salon and storeroom and the office and lunchroom of the Television company. The set elements are alternated with choreographed transitions and small changes add flexibility to the simpler stages. Lew's costume design complements the sets by sticking to solid colors for the core characters while the supporting roles of Kate's colleagues Yuko (Arisa Yura), Marcus (Matty Mills) and Barry (John Batchelor) and her sleazy director boyfriend Jeremy (also John Batchelor) remain simple with slight variations to differentiate the multiple characters portrayed. The transitions are covered with Kate Baldwin's lighting which takes on a disco styling of colored lights accompanied by Michael Toisuta's compositions and sound design.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
Matty Mills, Arisa Yura, Kimie Tsukakoshi and John Batchelor in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

For TOP COAT, the appointment of Courtney Stewart as the director with lived experience as an Asian Australian woman ensures that Winnie and Asami are presented with honesty and sensitivity, refraining from turning them into caricatures or leaning on stereotypes that non-People of Colour (POC) directors may be more tempted to do. It is refreshing to see both an Asian female be the central character and have her represented with respect and not be positioned to be the figure of comedy. With the focus of the work being the importance of Winnie being allowed to have a voice and the ability to aspire to more in a world where the white population treat people of colour with derogatory prejudice, the absurd and grotesque characters are Kate, Barry and Jeremy.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
Kimie Tsukakoshi and Matty Mills in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

Kimie Tsukakoshi delivers a powerful performance as the young woman desperate for her voice to be heard and her existence to be respected. She captures the essence of the new generation less willing to put up with poor treatment while her monologue about the realities of living as an Asian woman in a world of prejudice is compelling in its truth and hopefully the non-POC audience will understand that Law's writing and Tsukakoshi's dramatization of these truths are not exaggerations but anchored in reality and lived experiences.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
Arisa Yura, Amber McMahon and John Batchelor in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

As Kate, Amber McMahon balances presenting a caricature of the obnoxious entitled white women who treat the POC in service industries as second-class citizens while ensuring that there is still an honesty in the expression so that she remains recognizable, and the audience cannot dismiss the portrayal as pure fiction. McMahon infuses her brilliant comic physicality into her expression of Kate to express so much with just a glance or a sneer. She also ensures that while Kate feels like she can relate to Winnie's situation in terms of her own feminist fight against the 'glass ceiling' of the corporate world, she really exhibits traits that show her solution is to replicate the patriarchy to get ahead rather than delivering any true change in how women's capabilities get recognized in the workplace.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
Kimie Tsukakoshi and Amber McMahon in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

As Asami, Winnie's colleague, Arisa Yura balances an element of stereotype of newer migrant still learning the language and living with a fear of loosing her income with a need to ensure that she doesn't drift into the caricature. As Kate's colleagues, the Japanese Yuko and Indigenous Australian Marcus, Arisa Yura and Matty Mills allow their characters to grow from people that have been robbed of their 'voice', too scared to speak up for fear of the effects on their career, to ones that decide that they've had enough of Kate and Barry's bulldozer approach to managing the program scheduling with Virtue signaling without any true commitment to adequate representation of the customers the Broadcaster is meant to be supporting. As Jeremy, Kate's boyfriend and Barry, Kate's boss, John Batchelor easily weaves between the multiple characters to ensure they are all seen as entitled arrogant men that present the barrier against Kate's feminist attitudes.

REVIEW: The Importance Of Real Representation Is Reinforced In Michelle Law's TOP COAT
Kimie Tsukakoshi and John Batchelor in Sydney Theatre Company's Top Coat, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud

For those that can personally identify with Winnie, Asami, Yuko or Marcus in terms of not being white, TOP COAT is relatable and recognizable and a refreshing piece that finally shares an understanding of the challenges they experience. For those that may traditionally identify more with Kate, Barry or Jeremy, hopefully they can, like Kate, put themselves in Winnie's shoes and reconsider how they behave both to other people and how they may help effect change by calling out other people's bad behavior. Hopefully the underlying message about ensuring stories about POC are allowed to be told by POC will also be heard this work is proof that engaging a creative team that understand the work from a place of personal experience ensures a more honest and sensitive expression that properly respects the stories being told.

https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2022/top-coat




From This Author - Jade Kops

Jade is an Aviation Safety Training Instructor with a love of Theatre, Cabaret, Musical Theatre, and music and is a committed advocate for the live performing arts industry in Sydney and Australia.... (read more about this author)


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